Axing of 15 trees sparks outrage

By John Cousins

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Outraged residents have accused the Tauranga City Council of overkill for felling at least 15 trees in Bethlehem Heights - most of them flowering cherries.

The roadside trees were planted when Bethlehem Heights was developed in the mid to late 1990s and some ended up close to driveways once houses were built.

One of the residents, Willem Jonkers of Kildonan Place, was astonished when the council felled a tree opposite his house without notifying him first - an oversight the council agreed was a mistake.

He discovered it was part of a wider programme to remove trees deemed to be too close to driveways or footpaths, and which were either causing pavement damage or had potential to cause damage in a few years' time.

Mr Jonkers said the felling of the trees had outraged some residents because they greened the environment and produced a beautiful spring blossom display.

"Most of the chopped trees have not caused any visible damage at all."

Where there was damage, it had been minimal and could easily have been remedied, he said. The cause of the problem could also have been easily fixed by root pruning.

Mr Jonkers accused the council of overkill by felling the flowering cherry trees. "If they are not causing problems, why fell them?"

He understood that a couple of residents had requested the removal of the trees but generally most people he spoke to had been "outraged".

The Bethlehem Heights Residents Association has asked that no more trees be cut down until the council has consulted its members. It questioned whether the felling of most of the trees fitted the council's vegetation and tree management policy.

Council arborist Richard Conning defended the felling, most of which had been driven by the infrastructure development code which said trees could not be within 2 metres of a driveway.

He said 11 flowering cherry trees had been felled in August, plus a gleditsia and an ash. Several other trees were felled in September. Mr Conning said flowering cherries had a very shallow rooting structure whereas the replacement tree, cornus florida, was deeper rooting and much more benign. They also had a really good autumn colour and spring show.

Councillor Rick Curach raised the issue at the council's last meeting for the year on Tuesday, prompting Mayor Stuart Crosby to say "you are damned if you do and damned if you don't".

Mr Conning told the council that trees in narrow berms or poor locations were a legacy of the rapid development in the 1990s and 2000s. Most of the at-risk trees in Bethlehem Heights were growing close to people's driveways and there was a long-term programme to replace them with more appropriate trees planted further away.

"It is not wholesale slaughter."

He said the cost of driveways was met by residents and some of the trees had been very close to causing issues for driveways.

The council endorsed the actions of Mr Conning.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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